Paul Heckingbottom has had two choices, play the experienced players out of position or play youngsters without the experience. He has chosen to play the youngsters so far, Tom Pearce and Paudie O’Connor both starting games, Callum Nicell on the bench yesterday for the first time in his career.
O’Connor was thrust into first-team action yesterday with three centre-backs injured and our back-up for back-up also injured. Liam Cooper, Matthew Pennington, Conor Shaughnessy and Luke Ayling, some injury list for that position. Gaetano Berardi was the other option, playing Pearce or Anita at full-back and tucking Berardi in, he can do a job there if he lasts the 90 minutes, but that’s another issue entirely. O’Connor was up against Ashley Fletcher, someone we know all about, and he did very well. Fletcher had two chances, both allowed by Stuart Dallas from corners, O’Connor eventually took over that duty and he didn’t threaten again. He was very good on the ball, was comfortable on it, more so than Matthew Pennington and was composed in tight areas. He gave away a couple of fouls, one he needed to in the corner, and one crunching tackle that left his mark on one of the Sunderland players, a booking followed.
O’Connor arrived from Limerick in the League of Ireland and went straight into the development squad last season where is now the captain. The issue last season was that the players around him weren’t great at all, this season it’s a different story. players from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Benfica to name a few clubs, and it has brought O’Connor on, as has the new coach Carlos Corberan. O’Connor could now start on Tuesday at Preston North End, another big ask but why shouldn’t he start, he should keep his place after playing well. We should see him get a run in the side now, we might aswell blood him while there is little to play for and while his confidence is high, see how he does. Impressive debut.